In Defense of Topical Switch-Side Debate

Requiring debaters to debate the resolution isn’t unfairly exclusionary, nor does it preclude critical advocacies

by Dave McGinnis

Lincoln-Douglas debaters should be required to defend the truth of the resolution when they affirm, and to argue the falsity of the resolution when they negate. The meaning of “truth” and “falsity” are open to some degree of interpretation but, at a minimum, successful debate positions should argue in favor of or in opposition to the text of the resolution.

Debate is a particular kind of activity. It has core defining elements. Some of those elements are defined in various “rule books” — the National Speech and Debate Association has one, as does the National Catholic Forensic League, various local leagues around the country, and even, via their invitation texts, some tournaments.

But unlike most other competitive activities, there is no universally accepted, carefully articulated set of rules for debate that set out exactly what the activity is — what one has to do in order to participate, and what it takes to win.

If, as a result of this regulatory ambiguity, we decide that debate has no defining elements — if debate is simply an activity in which two people speak at a judge for a set amount of time, after which the judge fills out a ballot — then debate has significantly less value as an activity. In fact, under those conditions, it may be impossible to call debate an “activity” at all, since the various people who come to compete in LD debate, under that conception, might be doing completely different kinds of things.

Debate should be a clash of ideas and evidence centered on a shared proposition. Participants should agree beforehand that they will defend the assigned side of the resolution, that they will give speeches of a certain length and which take place in a certain order, and that they will submit to the decision of the judge.

This is so not just because argumentative clash over a shared proposition is a highly valuable activity, but also because the bare fact of accepting a universal task is a necessary, axiomatic element of any competition.

There is no particular reason that 100 yards is an ideal distance to run for a foot race. Arguments could be made that 90 yards is a superior distance (it tests you, but it doesn’t tire you out quite so badly) or that we should really be running 110 yards (because why stop at 100?). But if you enter a 100-yard dash, you evade the point of the activity if you insist that the distance should change for you. The function of a contest is to identify a task — the same task for all participants — and then to determine who best completes that task.

If there is no shared conception of the task to be completed, then there is not, in any meaningful sense, a contest.

Exclusion of Argument Styles

Advocates of “critical advocacies,” including but not limited to non-topical critical positions, often argue that advocates of “traditional” (topical switch-side) debate are attempting to exclude certain kinds of scholarship from debate.

On one level, this isn’t true. Critical advocacy centered on proving the resolution true or false is completely compatible with with topical, switch-side debate. The current LD resolution is: “The right to be forgotten from Internet searches ought to be a civil right.” One of the most powerful arguments for the affirmative deals with the problem of the Internet as a tool for structural violence and abuse, particularly aimed at women. The prevalence of cyber-stalking and “revenge porn” provide both the affirmative and the negative with avenues to explore critical questions of race, gender and class in the context of the resolution, and in service of arguing for or against its truth.

Thus, it isn’t critical advocacy, per se, that is excluded by a commitment to topical debate. Rather, it is non-topical critical advocacy.

And, to be clear, by “topical,” I don’t mean “advocacies that mention the topic.” This weekend, for instance, I judged a round in which the AC asked about my preferences. I said, “I strongly prefer that debate be about the topic.” The debater said, “Don’t worry, we’ll keep it topical.” Then he read an AC in which there was an argument about the topic followed by a pre-fiat critique that argued that I should vote affirmative because of his “speech act,” and its commitment to deconstructing oppression in the debate space. His role of the ballot argument had nothing to do with the topical argument at the top of the AC, and his strategy for winning the round did not depend on his winning the topical argument. In fact, after the first two minutes of the AC, that topical argument was never mentioned again. This is not, to my mind, “topical debate.”

On another level, the complaint that topical debate excludes some strategies is absolutely true. But I don’t think this is a problem. Any performance that doesn’t prove the truth or falsity of the resolution should absolutely be excluded from the range of behaviors that can result in a “win.”

First, I note that the exact same exclusion applies to every other competitive activity. High school football players, for instance, will not win football games by presenting critical advocacies. The same applies to every sport. Participants in academic quiz bowl have to answer quiz questions; presenting critical advocacies will not score points or win competitions. Presenting a Dramatic Interp in a round of Extemporaneous Speaking will not result in a “1” ranking.

Similarly, scoring goals, sinking baskets, or answering quiz questions will not win debate rounds.

If debate, as an activity, has a character — if it is something more than “talk for 13 minutes, and the judge fills out a ballot” — then there is nothing wrong with excluding activities, even discursive activities, that do not involve proving the truth or falsity of the resolution.

If we decide that the only norms in LD debate are the time limits and the ballot — that debaters can say anything during their 13 minutes, as long as it moves the judge to vote for them — then by what logic do we exclude threats? (“Contention I: I know where you live.”) Or bribes? (“Contention II. Here’s twenty bucks.”)

Further, I have never encountered an argument that football, basketball, field hockey or quiz bowl are inherently racist or exclusionary because they do not reward performances that fall outside the range of actions required by the rules of those activities.

Note that this does not mean that these behaviors should be per se excluded from debate, any more than they are absolutely excluded from other activities. If a football team decided collectively that a political statement were more important than a game of football, I can imagine a world where they might take the field and initiate a performance protesting some injustice. Or a world where they boycott a game because of some unfairness. I cannot, however, imagine a world where the football team would insist that their protest constituted “football” and that, because their opponent did not protest as well as they did, that they should be awarded a victory.

Thus, a “traditional” view of debate doesn’t exclude the performance of non-topical critical advocacies; it simply recognizes that they are not “debate” if they do not defend the truth or falsity of the resolution, and thus cannot result in a win. Debaters are still free to present non-topical critiques whenever they choose. However, like the football player, they should not reasonably expect to win.

I am amazed by the tenacity with which proponents of nontopical critical advocacy cling to the notion that they have to be able to “win” in order for their critical project to gain wider acceptance. On the one hand, this seems like obvious misdirection. It is not realistically the case that the presence of a particular kind of debate advocacy in elimination rounds of some tournament is going to increase the probability of “real world change.”

And, while I suspect that nontopical critical debaters are correct that the success of their strategy will lead to its greater prevalence in debate, this doesn’t seem like a positive development, even from the perspective of the young revolutionary. If someone who was already a participant in debate adopts the strategy of nontopical critique because they see that it wins, then it seems likely that you are welcoming opportunistic heretics, rather than committed adherents, into the fold.

Finally, the claim that the “traditional” style excludes the nontopical critical debater is entirely disingenuous, because the same is absolutely true in reverse. The two styles are logically mutually exclusive. A topical debate position impacting to a traditional role of the ballot will have no impact on a nontopical critical advocacy, and vice versa. Thus those on both sides of the issue are arguing for the exclusion of the other. I do not understand, however, why advocates of nontopical critical advocacies think that it is perfectly legitimate for them to expect a topical debater to do a one-eighty and adapt to their approach, but equally illegitimate for the topical debater to expect the same.

In-activity fairness vs. Societal fairness

One of the most common criticisms of non-topical critical debate is that it is unfair, and, in general, I agree with this criticism. If a debater can select a topic different from the issue provided by the central governing body, then that debater has a significant competitive advantage over any opponent. The reasons why have been articulated in countless theory debates.

If a debater can author their own topic, there is no guarantee of side balance. It is probably impossible – and certainly undesirable – to contest a position that racism or sexism should be rejected. And it is certainly the case that the non-topical debater will enjoy a tremendous preparation advantage, given that they know the topic to be discussed prior to the round, while their opponents remain largely in the dark.

Even if, as critical debaters will point out, you can “defeat” their position without “refuting” it — by providing, for instance, an “alternative methodology” — it is still the case that the non-topical debater gets to unilaterally select an entirely other issue for debate without consulting any opponent. The existence of potential strategies doesn’t deny that the non-topical debater gains a significant advantage by having the unilateral power to change the topic.

Frequently, proponents of critical debate will respond to claims of unfairness by pointing out that society, as a whole, is unfair. Some people don’t have access to debate camp or experienced debate coaches; some people can’t afford to travel; some people don’t even have debate teams. Racism, sexism, classism and a variety of pernicious social evils limit the opportunities of some compared to others. Simply by virtue of being born in America, the vast majority of debaters have a huge unearned life advantage over billions of people born in less wealthy nations.

This analysis is obviously true. It behooves us as a society to be mindful of these inequalities, and to make efforts, both individually and structurally, to address them.

We all have an obligation to live lives dedicated to deconstructing and eliminating the world’s gross inequalities. This is vitally important in education. But the eradication of inequality is not the only social virtue. The development of other virtues (through equitable competition) is also important, and can even operate to the long-term benefit of those who suffer from social inequity. A debater trained to research a specific topic and to analyze the arguments for both sides may one day use those skills in court or in congress to defend the rights of the trampled-upon. A debater who runs the same critical position topic after topic without ever engaging in specific research or clashing on substantive questions will be less well-prepared to do so. (It should be noted — the same criticism is also true of debaters whose coaches train them to run the same nonsensical debate theory topic after topic.)

It is a terrible idea, therefore, to suggest that the unfairness of the larger world obviates the need for in-activity competitive fairness.

Again, this is not a position that anyone would take with regard to any other activity. When Rosie Ruiz “won” the 1980 Boston Marathon by taking the subway for most of the route, nobody seriously argued that the unfairness of her performance should be ignored — and her “victory” upheld — because society, in general, is unfair.

The purpose of a contest is to determine which participants can best complete some task. The value of a contest is that it drives us to develop the virtues required to complete the task. Marathons push us to develop physically. Debate drives us to develop the research, argumentation, and analytical skills necessary to debate over a proposition. “Fairness” is an axiomatic requirement of contests, in the sense that the purpose of the contest is to measure the relative abilities of the people who come to the contest, and unfair behaviors invalidate the measure.

It is certainly the case that large issues of societal unfairness impact the relative ability of people to succeed in contests. In all areas of competition, those who have access to greater coaching resources have an advantage over those without coaches. Those with access to adequate nutrition have advantages over those who are hungry.

But it would be wrong to draw the conclusion that because of these issues of unfairness, we should reject the very idea of a fair contest. The contest measures what it measures — the ability of those who come to the starting line, the plate, or the debate round. Social inequality is pernicious and we should solve it, but if we believe that social unfairness invalidates in-activity fairness for our contests, then we should just stop having contests, rather than throwing up our hands and embracing cheating on the premise that since there can never be absolute fairness, we shouldn’t value fairness at all.

Further, it is not obviously the case that the people who benefit from the unfairness created by nontopical debate are also those who experience the greatest societal unfairness. For one thing, the globe’s least advantaged are unlikely to be participating in debate in the first place. And it is unlikely that people living in the global south experience any real benefit as a result of being the subject of an American student’s critical debate position.

Additionally, it is entirely possible that those who benefit from the advantage provided by nontopical advocacies are those with the greatest initial advantages. I recall an instance during the 2009-2010 season when a male debater from a very wealthy suburban school ran a nontopical critique of “gender in debate” against a female debater from a less-well-off school. His argument was that we should reject discussion of the topic in favor of advocating for more opportunities for female debaters. The round was a bid round; the male debater won. Anyone who is seriously concerned about issues of equity should be disturbed by the practice of those with great privilege using the narrative experiences of those with much less privilege as a tool for winning debate rounds, particularly since, in our community, the capacity to win debate rounds is, itself, another form of privilege.

And finally, I have no idea what I — or anyone — would say to a student from a less-well-resourced school who walked into a tournament — say, Blake — expecting to debate the topic published by the National Speech and Debate Association — the topic, mind you, that their coach informed them would be the subject of contestation at the event — only to find out that, instead, they would have to engage a position about something entirely different. I could certainly not forward the argument that this non-circuit debater was awfully fortunate that their opponent was fighting for greater fairness.

“Other debate strategies are nontopical as well; why do you only want to exclude ‘critical’ debate?”

Advocates of non-topical debate sometimes argue that those on the other side of the question are hypocritical because they don’t complain about other strategies that are equally non-topical. The prototypical example of this is “debate theory.”

Theoretical debate is certainly non-topical. In its original purpose and when done well, however, it operates in the service of topical debate. Theory as a strategic option in LD arose in a time when practices that seemed obviously illegitimate — multiple pre-standards arguments, multiple sufficient aff standards, etc. — were very common.

These strategies were “topical” but made for terrible debates. Debaters and coaches struggled for a long time to try to explain why these strategies were illegitimate. Simply trying to engage these strategies wasn’t effective; accepting a ridiculous burden and then trying to meet it resulted in unreasonable losses more often than not.

Thus, theory, correctly conceived, promotes good topical switch-side debate by checking back the prevalence of these strategies.

That said, I absolutely concede that theory is often misused — it is frequently deployed as a nontopical strategy designed to avoid and obfuscate debate. I loathe that practice, and I have written at length about the danger that this use of theory presents to debate:

http://nsdupdate.com/2012/01/31/has-ld-debate-become-too-esoteric/

So, if the concern is that it is hypocritical to reject one kind of nontopical debate while embracing other kinds of nontopical debate, I feel reasonably comfortable that my position is consistent.

Conclusion

Debate is a thing; it is not a random, amorphous thing, but rather a specific kind of thing with specific characteristics. Topicality should, generally, be one of those characteristics. It is damaging to the activity if the norm that debaters must defend or oppose the topic slips away.

Those advocating for nontopical critical positions want to be able to present argumentative advocacy in the service of ideologies of deep personal import, without the constraint of some proposition determined by a national governing body.

There is a forensics activity specifically designed to facilitate this kind of performance. It is broadly popular, with far more participants, nationally, than LD debate. It has its own national tournament and even its own TOC. And while I have competed in that activity, coached it with great success and truly enjoy watching it, I do not want LD debate to become “Dueling Original Oratory.”

 

  • TylerBC

    No one probably cares, and I haven’t been here in eons, but below is the card for the argument (Kritik) I made against Mr. McGinnis.

    Harvey Birdman, Esq., I agree with some of the things you said, and I disagree with some other things you said. I especially like your name!

    Viva la Kritik!

    (Sorry if this was a double-post.)

    – Cookie

    Their framework is a hegemonic, exclusionary apparatus that makes debate a rigged game. It separates us from our arguments as interested agents – it is both unworldly and dehumanizing.

    Santos, 2011

    [William V. Spanos is a highly acclaimed author, World War II Veteran, POW at Dresden, distinguished professor of English and Comparative Literature at the SUNY Binghamton; “William V. Spanos: An Interested Debate Inquiry An Interview with Christopher Spurlock”; kdebate; http://kdebate.com/spanos.html; TBC]

    WVS: The reason I asked you that question is because I’ve always thought that the debate system is a rigged process, by which I mean, in your terms, it’s framed to exclude anything that the frame can’t contain and domesticate. To frame also means to “prearrange” so that a particular outcome is assured,” which also means the what’s outside of the frame doesn’t stand a chance: it is “framed” from the beginning. It was, above all, the great neo-Marxist Louis Althusser’s analysis of the “problematic” – the perspective or frame of reference fundamental to knowledge production in democratic-capitalist societies — that enabled me to see what the so called distinterestness of empirical inquiry is blind to or, more accurately willfully represses in its Panglossian pursuit of the truth. Althusser’s analysis of the “problematic” is too complicated to be explained in a few words. (Anyone interested will find his extended explanation in his introduction –“From Capital* to Marx’s Philosophy” — to his and Etienne Balibar’s book *Reading Capital*. It will suffice here to say that we in the modern West have been *inscribed* by our culture –“ideological state apparatuses (educational institutions, media, and so on)– by a system of knowledge production that goes by the name of “disinterested inquiry,” but in reality the “truth” at which it arrives is a construct, a fiction, and thus ideological. And this is precisely because, in distancing itself from earthly being –the transience of time –this system of knowledge production privileges the panoptic eye in the pursuit of knowledge. This is what Althusser means by the “problematic”: a frame that allows the perceiver to see only what it wants to see. Everything that is outside the frame doesn’t exist to the perceiver. He /she is blind to it. It’s nothing or, at the site of humanity, it’s nobody. Put alternatively, the problematic — this frame, as the very word itself suggests, *spatializes* or *reifies* time — reduces what is a living, problematic force and not a thing into a picture or thing so that it can be comprehended (taken hold of, managed), appropriated, administered, and exploited by the disinterested inquirer. All that I’ve just said should suggest what I meant when, long ago, in response to someone in the debate world who seemed puzzled by the strong reservations I expressed on being informed that the debate community in the U.S. was appropriating my work on Heidegger, higher education, and American imperialism. I said then — and I repeat here to you — that the traditional form of the debate, that is, the hegemonic frame that rigidly determines its protocols– is unworldly in an ideological way. It willfully separates the debaters from the world as it actually is– by which I mean as it has been produced by the dominant democratic I capitalist culture –and it displaces them to a free-floating zone, a no place, as it were, where all things, nor matter how different the authority they command in the real world, are equal. But in *this* real world produced by the combination of Protestant Christianity and democratic capitalism things — and therefore their value –are never equal. They are framed into a system of binaries-Identity/ difference, Civilization/barbarism I Men/woman, Whites/blacks, Sedentary/ nomadic, Occidental/ oriental, Chosen I preterit (passed over), Self-reliance I dependent (communal), Democracy I communism, Protestant Christian I Muslim, and so on — in which the first term is not only privileged over the second term, but, in thus being privileged, is also empowered to demonize the second. Insofar as the debate world frames argument as if every position has equal authority (the debater can take either side) it obscures and eventually effaces awareness of the degrading imbalance of power in the real world and the terrible injustices it perpetrates. Thus framed, debate gives the false impression that it is a truly democratic institution, whereas in reality it is complicitous with the dehumanized and dehumanizing system of power that produced it. It is no accident, in my mind, that this fraudulent form of debate goes back to the founding of the U.S. as a capitalist republic and that it has produced what I call the “political class” to indicate not only the basic sameness between the Democratic and Republican parties but also its fundamental indifference to the plight of those who don’t count in a system where what counts is determined by those who are the heirs of this quantitative system of binaries.

    THING vs NO-THING LINK —

    Santos, 2011

    [William V. Spanos is a highly acclaimed author, World War II Veteran, POW at Dresden, distinguished professor of English and Comparative Literature at the SUNY Binghamton; “William V. Spanos: An Interested Debate Inquiry An Interview with Christopher Spurlock”; kdebate; http://kdebate.com/spanos.html; emphasis added; TBC]

    WVS: As I have been saying in one way or another throughout these remarks, the Western tradition, particularly in its latest (Anthropological or Enlightenment) phase, has been structured according to the imperatives of a binary logic (Identity/difference), in which the first term is not only privileged over the second, but is also empowered to demonize the second. It is based on a politics of enmity. Thus, Some (total) THING vs. NOTHING, Self vs. other, Civilization vs. barbarism, Man vs. woman, Straight vs. .gay, White vs. black, Occident vs. orient, and on and on. According to this Enlightened mode of knowledge production, only entities that are measurable have being; everything else is as nothing. Or to put it alternatively ONLY *THINGS* COUNT; EVERY PHENOMENON THAT IS NOT A THING DOESN’T COUNT. But, as Heidegger says in his essay “What Is Metaphysics?,” every statement that the adherents of this mode of knowledge production make about truth is necessarily accompanied by reference to this nothing: “That to which the world refers are beings themselves — and nothing besides; that from which every attitude takes its guidance are beings themselves — and nothing further; that with which the scientific confrontation in the interruption occurs are beings themselves– and beyond that nothing.” And he concludes: “What about this nothing? Is it an accident that we talk this way automatically … ?” The implication here is that this nothing (das Nichts), which the West systematically has repressed has also haunted its truth discourse from the beginning of Western civilization. Poststructuralist theory, then -which, as the etymology makes clear in questioning a mode of knowledge that spatializes or thingifies what are not things (like time), constitutes an effort not only to retrieve the nothing that modern Western thinking will militanly have nothing to do with, but also to think this nothing positively. The question it asks –or should ask– is what would a world in which the nothing, in all its manifestations, is given its due be like? This question about the coming community is the question that, like Said at the end of his life vis a vis Palestine, Agamben, Badiou, Ranciere, Butler, and Zizek, among others are now asking,

  • Harvey Birdman, Esq.

    I realize I’m late to the discussion, but let me add one thing for posterity. Any discussion of critical arguments in debate has to be candid about what the purpose of the critical studies movement is. I realize many of you lean progressive in your politics, as do I lately, but we do not have the luxury of being so open minded we ignore objective reality. Too many kids’ futures are at stake for that kind of lazy solipsism.

    The nature and purpose of “critical studies” is the accumulation of power by force. Empirics, reason, epistemology … all are malleable, disposable tools in the hands of activists who believe they have a higher mandate to right historic wrongs, and that the ends justify the means. This is why, for example, critical gender studies folks equate demanding an objective assessment of rape accusations with denying that rape ever happens. This is why, rather than discuss the panoply of factors that affect economic outcomes –some we control, some we don’t– they attack “white privilege” (and white privilege only) with a fervor previously reserved for Emmanuel Goldstein. This is why they seek to weaponize and silence speech they disagree with on grounds that it “triggers” uncontrollable responses and injury to mental health. This is why they take pride in their jargon and their refusal to define terms clearly, as it helps obscure the logical defects in their arguments. This is why they talk in terms of inclusion and tolerance, but systematically, enthusiastically ignore nuance and level accusations of bigotry as a first line of defense. Put simply, “critical studies” is a martial art first, and an academic discipline only to the extent it serves that art.

    The martial nature of critical studies accounts for–I would estimate based on 10 years of coaching and judging– about 95-99% of its use in debate competition. Students from wealthy prep schools, surrounded by phalanxes of highly experienced and connected coaches, regularly advance and win major tournaments (up to and including the TOC) with non-topical arguments decrying some form of privilege or inequity. I can only guess that the “community” (a lovely euphemism) is so cowed by fears of being called racist or sexist that it pretends not to see the glaring irony.

    So let me say it plainly: Critical arguments are weapons for winning trophies, full stop. They are deployed because they are obscure, jargon-laden and intimidating, and because beating them requires tremendous knowledge of the “inside baseball” culture of circuit debate. Their sole function is to erect barriers to entry to keep out smart, motivated students from outside the “community”–i.e., the court society/cartel that is circuit debate. If you wanted to design a mechanism to keep black and brown kids, rural kids, and other non-elites (like the ones I have coached) out of high-level debate, you could not do better than the deliberate obscurantism, thinly veiled ad hominem attacks, jargon, and tin pot theory of critical debate (along with speed, of course, which certainly is not unique to critical arguments).

    If you care about underprivileged kids, stop hiding behind obscurantism and jargon, and make rules that are clear, transparent, and not subject to ad hoc changes in the round. Debate the resolution straight up, every single time, so that a smart kid with a legal pad and an internet connection has a real chance, with no need for expensive camps or $500 air fares to learn the culture at far-flung tournaments. If you do anything else, you are preserving privilege, period. If you claim the mantle of “radicalism” or “activism” while doing anything else, you are preserving privilege the most hilariously hypocritical way imaginable.

    • Cookie

      No one probably cares, and I haven’t been here in eons, but below is the card for the argument (Kritik) I made against Mr. McGinnis.

      Harvey Birdman, Esq., I agree with some of the things you said, and I disagree with some other things you said. I especially like your name!

      Viva la Kritik!

      Their framework is a hegemonic, exclusionary apparatus that makes debate a rigged game. It separates us from our arguments as interested agents – it is both unworldly and dehumanizing.

      Santos, 2011

      [William V. Spanos is a highly acclaimed author, World War II Veteran, POW at Dresden, distinguished professor of English and Comparative Literature at the SUNY Binghamton; “William V. Spanos: An Interested Debate Inquiry An Interview with Christopher Spurlock”; kdebate; http://kdebate.com/spanos.html; TBC]

      WVS: The reason I asked you that question is because I’ve always thought that the debate system is a rigged process, by which I mean, in your terms, it’s framed to exclude anything that the frame can’t contain and domesticate. To frame also means to “prearrange” so that a particular outcome is assured,” which also means the what’s outside of the frame doesn’t stand a chance: it is “framed” from the beginning. It was, above all, the great neo-Marxist Louis Althusser’s analysis of the “problematic” – the perspective or frame of reference fundamental to knowledge production in democratic-capitalist societies — that enabled me to see what the so called distinterestness of empirical inquiry is blind to or, more accurately willfully represses in its Panglossian pursuit of the truth. Althusser’s analysis of the “problematic” is too complicated to be explained in a few words. (Anyone interested will find his extended explanation in his introduction –“From Capital* to Marx’s Philosophy” — to his and Etienne Balibar’s book *Reading Capital*. It will suffice here to say that we in the modern West have been *inscribed* by our culture –“ideological state apparatuses (educational institutions, media, and so on)– by a system of knowledge production that goes by the name of “disinterested inquiry,” but in reality the “truth” at which it arrives is a construct, a fiction, and thus ideological. And this is precisely because, in distancing itself from earthly being –the transience of time –this system of knowledge production privileges the panoptic eye in the pursuit of knowledge. This is what Althusser means by the “problematic”: a frame that allows the perceiver to see only what it wants to see. Everything that is outside the frame doesn’t exist to the perceiver. He /she is blind to it. It’s nothing or, at the site of humanity, it’s nobody. Put alternatively, the problematic — this frame, as the very word itself suggests, *spatializes* or *reifies* time — reduces what is a living, problematic force and not a thing into a picture or thing so that it can be comprehended (taken hold of, managed), appropriated, administered, and exploited by the disinterested inquirer. All that I’ve just said should suggest what I meant when, long ago, in response to someone in the debate world who seemed puzzled by the strong reservations I expressed on being informed that the debate community in the U.S. was appropriating my work on Heidegger, higher education, and American imperialism. I said then — and I repeat here to you — that the traditional form of the debate, that is, the hegemonic frame that rigidly determines its protocols– is unworldly in an ideological way. It willfully separates the debaters from the world as it actually is– by which I mean as it has been produced by the dominant democratic I capitalist culture –and it displaces them to a free-floating zone, a no place, as it were, where all things, nor matter how different the authority they command in the real world, are equal. But in *this* real world produced by the combination of Protestant Christianity and democratic capitalism things — and therefore their value –are never equal. They are framed into a system of binaries-Identity/ difference, Civilization/barbarism I Men/woman, Whites/blacks, Sedentary/ nomadic, Occidental/ oriental, Chosen I preterit (passed over), Self-reliance I dependent (communal), Democracy I communism, Protestant Christian I Muslim, and so on — in which the first term is not only privileged over the second term, but, in thus being privileged, is also empowered to demonize the second. Insofar as the debate world frames argument as if every position has equal authority (the debater can take either side) it obscures and eventually effaces awareness of the degrading imbalance of power in the real world and the terrible injustices it perpetrates. Thus framed, debate gives the false impression that it is a truly democratic institution, whereas in reality it is complicitous with the dehumanized and dehumanizing system of power that produced it. It is no accident, in my mind, that this fraudulent form of debate goes back to the founding of the U.S. as a capitalist republic and that it has produced what I call the “political class” to indicate not only the basic sameness between the Democratic and Republican parties but also its fundamental indifference to the plight of those who don’t count in a system where what counts is determined by those who are the heirs of this quantitative system of binaries.

      THING VS NO-THING LINK –

      Santos, 2011

      [William V. Spanos is a highly acclaimed author, World War II Veteran, POW at Dresden, distinguished professor of English and Comparative Literature at the SUNY Binghamton; “William V. Spanos: An Interested Debate Inquiry An Interview with Christopher Spurlock”; kdebate; http://kdebate.com/spanos.html; emphasis added; TBC]

      WVS: As I have been saying in one way or another throughout these remarks, the Western tradition, particularly in its latest (Anthropological or Enlightenment) phase, has been structured according to the imperatives of a binary logic (Identity/difference), in which the first term is not only privileged over the second, but is also empowered to demonize the second. It is based on a politics of enmity. Thus, Some (total) THING vs. NOTHING, Self vs. other, Civilization vs. barbarism, Man vs. woman, Straight vs. .gay, White vs. black, Occident vs. orient, and on and on. According to this Enlightened mode of knowledge production, only entities that are measurable have being; everything else is as nothing. Or to put it alternatively ONLY *THINGS* COUNT; EVERY PHENOMENON THAT IS NOT A THING DOESN’T COUNT. But, as Heidegger says in his essay “What Is Metaphysics?,” every statement that the adherents of this mode of knowledge production make about truth is necessarily accompanied by reference to this nothing: “That to which the world refers are beings themselves — and nothing besides; that from which every attitude takes its guidance are beings themselves — and nothing further; that with which the scientific confrontation in the interruption occurs are beings themselves– and beyond that nothing.” And he concludes: “What about this nothing? Is it an accident that we talk this way automatically … ?” The implication here is that this nothing (das Nichts), which the West systematically has repressed has also haunted its truth discourse from the beginning of Western civilization. Poststructuralist theory, then -which, as the etymology makes clear in questioning a mode of knowledge that spatializes or thingifies what are not things (like time), constitutes an effort not only to retrieve the nothing that modern Western thinking will militanly have nothing to do with, but also to think this nothing positively. The question it asks –or should ask– is what would a world in which the nothing, in all its manifestations, is given its due be like? This question about the coming community is the question that, like Said at the end of his life vis a vis Palestine, Agamben, Badiou, Ranciere, Butler, and Zizek, among others are now asking,

  • Steve

    I can help with writing/running/answering theory. I was also pretty kritikal in high school.

    Email me and I’ll send back a resume and we can talk

    stevent.krawczyk@gmail.com

  • bekah boyer

    P.S. Y’all, topicality is based on the plan text.

  • sjadler

    I might post a lengthier reply at some point (or might not, should probably be working on my thesis proposal), but I think this all-in-all is a very well-written article, and I think it makes a lot of fairly convincing points.

    That said, I think the article concludes with something that picks up on my vision for debate in which non-topical critical advocacy (NTCA) still exists: “Topicality should, generally, be one of those characteristics.” Note the ‘generally’; I think we need to measure benefits of NTCA on the margins, about specific rounds and practices.

    Here’s a really short explanation of what I mean: I think a lot of these objections to NTCA are just bad/problematic NTCA that can be pointed out in-round (e.g., privileged white guy reading pre-fiat fem vs. less-privileged woman). I also think the fact that debate should generally be about the topic shouldn’t preclude non-topical discussion in egregious situations (e.g., one debater curses at or threatens the other, threatened debater argues the other should lose).

    So yes, debate should generally be about the topic. But I think debaters can just weigh that as a disadvantage against whatever benefit they’re claiming *on the margin* from introducing their position. If it isn’t large enough to offset the predictability harms, etc., of hurting the topical debater, then they probably lose. But if they have a strong enough claim to outweighing, then good for them and I think there’s room for those NTCA positions, even if NTCA happens to be about race, gender, or something broader in society, as opposed to in-round behavior of cursing at an opponent.

  • Cookie

    In response to Mr. McGinnis’ turn – “This is not revolution; this is co-option.”

    (Notice, kiddos, that Mr. McGinnis is using the word “turn” correctly here. Mr. McGinnis’ purported turn is, in fact, a “turn” to what I’m arguing. Lesson: Don’t label every argument in a debate a “turn.”)

    This is really the last post that I can make. I love discourse. I love talking about things and no-things. But I swear: Don’t listen to me and/or Mr. McGinnis! The debate-space is yours! I am merely the ghost of Rebar Niemi, who likes to post “snarky” and irrelevant musings on the inter-webs.

    But I cannot let the statement “This is not revolution; this is co-option” stand!

    You should ask yourself: Who has more stake in the game?? I am no longer involved in high school LD debate. I don’t really care what you do or have to say in debate rounds. Of course I have certain views about debate, and Mr. McGinnis has other views. But, I’m not imposing “my views” on you, what some philosophers call “interpellation.”

    Now the line-by-line (lolz)…

    “The imposition of the activity is truly oppressive”

    I disagree… Perhaps this is where Mr. McGinnis and I understand debate differently. He thinks it’s a “thing”; I think it’s a “no-thing.” Debate is powerful because it offers students a site of agency. As much as your elders tell you to do this or that, at the end of the day, at the end of this online-debate, your constructives and rebuttals are yours. Debate is empowering because it exposes you to ideas and literature that seem unworldly. I remember when I started debate for a rural town called Salado I use to be an avid supporter of George W. Bush. Oh, Cookie, why were you such a little Eichmann back then!? But debate introduced me to new ideas, new words, new concepts. I picked up a book by good ‘ol Heidegger (also a little Eichmann) and my entire traditional way of thinking changed. Here’s the point that I’m trying to make to you, kiddos: Debate is only oppressive if you let oppressors like Mr. McGinnis and I oppress you!

    “all the kiddos, and their coaches, and their opponents, and their judges — get to define the debate space *together*.”

    Mr. McGinnis is right about this to some extent. Debate is a community of intellectuals, and as such, it behooves you to be respectful of others and understand where they’re coming from. But the difference between Mr. McGinnis and I is that I’m not defining the “debate space” for you; Mr. McGinnis is. Mr. McGinnis wants you to talk about what he wants you to talk about. Does anyone else not find it highly ironic that Mr. McGinnis is a member of the topic-wording committee!?! (Or at least WAS… correct me Mr. McGinnis if I’m wrong… I’ve been out of the high school LD debate scene for a while.)

    “Nontopical debate is oppressive because the nontopical debater asserts the authority to unilaterally define the terms of the interaction.”

    Who is this non-topical debater you’re referring to? Part of the problem with this discussion is that we tend to over-generalize “topical debaters” vs “non-topical debaters.” Am I a nontopical debater? Because I assure you, Good Sir, that when I did high school LD debate I talked about the topic in the vast majority of rounds. Keep in mind that I NEVER said topical debate is bad. Despite all the back-and-forth arguing between people like me, Mr. McGinnis, and Bekah Boyer, it’s incredible how much we’re in agreement: there ARE interesting ways to incorporate critical arguments and literature about the topic. Let that also be a lesson, kiddos, “topical version of the AFF solves” is money. If you want to worship the topic as the
    holy sacrament that it is, then explain why “topical version solves.” Otherwise concede that your framework is exclusionary. Or… impact-turn exclusion by arguing exclusion is good (which is offensive, both in the debate-sense and in common vernacular)… or maybe it’s that exclusion is inevitable… I’m not sure.

    “Now, if you could convince me that this kind of power exists uniquely for the benefit of socially excluded groups, then you might have an argument in favor of radical revolution against topical debate.”

    Yes! I can’t believe that Mr. McGinnis is admitting that I “might have an argument.” I am deeply gracious that the mighty and powerful debate-gods have recognized me– that my incoherent ramblings have reached some semblance of an argument. Look, I can’t really speak about who is running the K and who isn’t running the K in
    high school LD debate. Given that a great deal of the debate-community is privileged, I’m sure it will be co-opted by bourgeois-white-men to some extent. Newsflash… I’m a white man! But, again, what is Mr. McGinnis doing to change that? Does he advocate for a type of debate that is inclusive or exclusive? Does he even give marginalized debaters the CHANCE to talk about things important to them (things that Mr. McGinnis believes are “no-things”)? I would hope as a white man that I still have the chance to talk about Queer Theory and Ableism, both of which affect me in a multiplicity of ways. And yes, while some white people like
    myself seem intent to talk about race, I can assure you, Good Sir, that “non-traditional, Kritik” debaters have excelled in the college policy world, and many of these debaters are Black. Examples include Towson and Emporia.

    If you think that “non-topical, non-traditional” debaters are misusing the Kritik, then call them out on it. This is called a counter-Kritik. Rodrigo is right: there’s a great deal of literature known as “speaking for others” that could be used for this counter-K.

    “No one has yet told me what to do in a situation where a privileged white male runs a feminist position against a less privileged female debater, or when a white female debater defeats a Black female debater running a Blackness position.”

    I’ll end here. To answer Mr. McGinnis’ question, I would listen to the arguments. Mr. McGinnis references in his original article a male debater who ran a feminist critique years ago. I have no idea what he’s talking about, so I can’t really comment about that. You see, what is missing from the discussion is a lack of context. Not all “kritik debaters” are the same, just like not all “traditional debaters” are the same. In any case, what is Mr. McGinnis’ point here? That men can’t talk about gender hierarchies? That white people can’t talk about racial hierarchies? I would rather be a white guy protesting on the streets of Birmingham (read: Ferguson) than a white guy stifling the marketplace of ideas by telling students what they can and cannot do.

    There are a bunch of hidden agendas going on in this debate (which, again, is my point: fairness for whom??) Mr. McGinnis… if you really believe in what you say then teach (read: gently guide) your debaters by showing them how to persuasively argue framework. If a male debater argues for feminism in a round, I will listen to what he has to say. But here’s another scenario: If one of Mr. McGinnis’ male
    debaters runs framework against that debater (the one who ran feminism), then I
    will ALSO listen to what he has to say.

    I hope that Mr. McGinnis would do the same if he was in the back of the room!!! Or would he?

  • Gbrown

    I think there’s a few issues with this articles…tone? That’s likely not the right word, hopefully we can see what I mean by the end of this.

    “On another level, the complaint that topical debate excludes some strategies is absolutely true. But I don’t think this is a problem. Any performance that doesn’t prove the truth or falsity of the resolution should absolutely be excluded from the range of behaviors that can result in a “win.””

    You then mention the idea of “sports not winning for critical questioning”

    This seems problematic for a few reasons. First, the entire purpose of a debate is to explore critical thinking, and reasons as to why something is good or bad. That is obviously not the purpose of a football game, the idea of comparing them in this sense is absolutely absurd. Second, a sports game is not engaged in the same literature base, nor the same fluidity of rules as debate, as you mentioned above.

    “If debate, as an activity, has a character — if it is something more than “talk for 13 minutes, and the judge fills out a ballot” — then there is nothing wrong with excluding activities, even discursive activities, that do not involve proving the truth or falsity of the resolution.”

    Say, as I have been told by a debater, the resolution is a question of defending drone strikes on the affirmative, and the debater uses his speech time to explore the background and mindset of drone-strikes instead of affirming. Is this not a constructive use of the debate space to discuss an advocacy? Or is this also “rightfully excluded”? This is more of a literal question under your interpretation of topical debate, than an argument.

    You then say that “these advocacies are not being excluded” and then follow that with “these arguments are just not debate”. Who has the right to prescribe what debate is and is not? You mention the debater who talked about the resolution and then used it as a springboard. I ran the same kind of case at the Valley tournament utilizing Deleuze and Guattari to discuss the ideas of openness in debate and deconstructing the binaries within debate rounds. It certainly was relating the topic, and the way in which we see it, I’d argue that’s perfectly topical. Not only do you say what “Debate” is, but go even further to narrow down what “topical” means. I ran a similar case at Caucus utilizing Nietzsche to discuss the same(ish) idea of debate, which some of your debaters debated me on (althought this case was much more “untopical” it did somewhat use the resolution’s wording). There were many a productive round had on the discussion of what it means to debate, and what debate is, I think critically questioning the way in which we view resolutions, and view debate is a key stepping stone to moving forward in the activity.

    You also make the claim that “I am amazed by the tenacity with which proponents of nontopical critical advocacy cling to the notion that they have to be able to “win” in order for their critical project to gain wider acceptance. On the one hand, this seems like obvious misdirection. It is not realistically the case that the presence of a particular kind of debate advocacy in elimination rounds of some tournament is going to increase the probability of “real world change.”

    The debate space outside of the round is the “real world”. The idea that in-round discourse doesn’t change ANYTHING is absurd. As second year debater I was changed not only in my own out-side of debate life, but also in my debate life by the advocacy I saw run in round and through online videos. Emma Weddle, Oklahoma CL, Loyola EM, and countless other debaters and debate teams who ran arguments that opened the space of debate to question existing structures. The people within the debate space are directly changed by the experiences they have there, which obviously carry out into the real world, as do the advocacies they discover and become a part of.

    “Even if, as critical debaters will point out, you can “defeat” their position without “refuting” it — by providing, for instance, an “alternative methodology” — it is still the case that the non-topical debater gets to unilaterally select an entirely other issue for debate without consulting any opponent. The existence of potential strategies doesn’t deny that the non-topical debater gains a significant advantage by having the unilateral power to change the topic.”

    I think this is a good discussion to have, to create a more engaging atmosphere of critical rounds, not to destroy them. 1) The wiki should be utilized more to not prepare theory shells and framework for debate rounds, but instead to create substantive arguments against the ideas put forward. 2) There are obviously “general” and “generic” case positions that can answer a variety of K affirmatives. Many root-cause arguments, “deconstruction of x” comes before any question of something else, and Marx (although I’m not a big fan of this argument, it is atleast a response).

    First time writing on this website, sorry if this has been addressed before or above, please direct me to that if it was.

  • bekah boyer

    So, I really don’t *get* why so many people -no matter the paradigm- think switch-side, “topical” debate is mutually exclusive with critical forms of argumentation. As an activist, I find that radicalism can often be found through policymaking. Radical critique is a necessary check on such activities – in fact, that’s why many organizations literally sit down and discuss cost/benefits of policies which may or may not replicate or co’opt original systems power. Sometimes we opt not to call an event “feminist coming out day” at risk it would re-appropiate unique experiences through heteronormativity. Other times, we decide to advance a specific cause even though it might trade-off with other issues because of the likelihood of success.. You know, #advocacyskills. I would echo the statement below (ATJ someone) that policymaking MUST have radical checks and that this process IS realistic. It seems like the crux of the disagreement is about what is “fair.” Again, it is wrong and not coincidental that the purported definition of fairness suits a particular populace (read: cis-white-hetero-male). *It’s all about the that T* Many of (in my opinion) best critical positions utilize words in the resolution to create their advocacy. Yeah, they might not be “predictable” in the WASP-y world, but that’s kind of the point.

    The truth is not that “things” are not entirely socially constructed but nor are they entirely generated from each individual. It’s somewhere in between, where we are all agents who RESPOND to situations. Debate is more about the burden of rejoinder than the burden of proof; it is the agonistic dialogue which formulates the basis of its structure and ideology. This access point that is too often contested by terms couched in privilege. If it is reasonably accessible to access clash (meaning it can be defeated but not refuted) then, let’s debate it. Maybe we should stop talking about the “fairness” of the conversation’s origin entirely and (finally) productively engage each other.

    Then again, by popular opinion, I know nothing about debate. Anyone want to have a baked good and actually discuss stuff? Apparently that is rare in the

    P.S. Gender is not just a “performance.” Bodies Matter, yo. Race and gender are only the same “idea” if you see them as variables to a white-male norm. The complexity is beyond the binary dimension.

    • Cookie

      I agree with the vast majority of Bekah’s post, but one comment caught my eye: “Gender is not a performance.” I disagree with that statement.

      For those interested in the (truncated) version of the argument I’m about to make, I suggest “Gender Trouble” and “Undoing Gender,” both by Judith Butler, and any book by Michel Foucault, but mostly any of the volumes “The History of Sexuality”.

      Gender IS a performance. It is something we do every day, even in debate rounds. Gender is something we DO, not something that IS. The problem with speaking about gender as if it IS, is that doing so essentializes
      what it means to be a man and/or womyn. Post-structuralists, like Judith Butler, have long criticized the essentialism of identity politics. Their
      argument is not that identity is un-important or shouldn’t be talked about;
      rather, identity is fluid and un-stable, the result of various discourses and ideological constructions. Heteronormative matrixes are but one example of ideological distortion. For all my queer, bi, and trans brothas and sistas out there (what is “out there?” The World Wide Web? I guess I’m mostly talking to debaters here), you’re beautiful and stylish too.

      I’ll give one example of what I’m talking about: the color pink and the color blue. Watch this video! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrmRxGLn0Bk
      Why do we dress boys in blue and girls in pink… and what changed?

      Here’s the thing about the debate-community: It is merely a microcosm that intersects with society as a whole (what Mr. McGinnis arbitrarily distinguishes between “in-activity fairness” and “societal fairness.”) The debate community, as least right now, is hostile to womyn much like larger civil society is. I could cite some studies about how many womyn
      are sexually harassed and assaulted every day, but I think this video makes the case better than I can: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1XGPvbWn0A

      Why is debate so hostile to womyn (and difference generally)? Here are my theories. They are just MY theories, and this is why calm and productive discussions with knowledgeable people like Bekah Boyer are imperative. For “non-traditional, Kritik” debaters,” I suggest perusing the
      literature I’m about to reference…

      1.
      Debate is based on what Luce Irigaray calls phallogocentrism. Debate prizes and heralds certain discourses above others. Above all… we must be rational! But Irigaray points out that “rationality” is not neutral (much like Mr. McGinnis’ “fairness”). Western, Eurocentric philosophy has yet to come to grips with an ethic of sexual difference, and as a result, many womyn are excluded subjectively. I think this happens in debate all the time. This is why the model of a “good” debater is an aggressive, rational, male. Oh… you sensitive, weak women-folk! Why can’t you just debate like men! Insulting, right?

      2.
      Debate fetishizes competition. One of the most brilliant people ever, Carol Gilligan, criticizes the adversarial process of the criminal justice system. Part of the reason that national-circuit debate is so obnoxious is because it is hyper-competitive. Mr. McGinnis thinks that Kritik debaters really only care about the ballot, but this demonstrates his inability to think from others’ perspective. Not everybody in this community cares solely about winning. There are not enough womyn in this activity. If they exist, they exist on the periphery, the margins. There are not enough POWERFUL womyn in this community – if there were, the competitive vibe of national-circuit debate would change. I think debates would become less hostile and more cooperative.

      I have other theories, but I’m tired of typing now, and really I’m just rambling at this point. But I want to come back to the comment that inspired me to write this comment: “Debate is not a performance.” What is my message to all those debaters whom have been excluded? To those debaters whom have been marked as “other,” as “inferior,” to go back where they belong like Original Oratory? Here is my message to self-identified female debaters:

      Hollaback!

      When that male debater tells you you’re acting “bitchy,” throw it back in his face! No, I’m not saying to call him a bitch. Re-appropriate the word “bitch” much like the LGBT community took back the word “Queer.”

      Damn right I’m a bitch! And I got shit to say in these debates!

      P.S.

      Bekah is right, though… “Bodies matter too.” But, I suggest reading Butler’s “Bodies that Matter.” Perhaps this is where Bekah and I disagree philosophically. I think there is too much focus on embodiment and not
      enough on subjectivity, not enough on performativity. The problem is that
      certain bodies are marked differentially: some bodies matter and some bodies don’t. This is where the scholarship and literature-base known as Disability Studies/Theory, which I highly recommend to debaters, comes into play. What if my body doesn’t work in the same ways yours does? Yes, bodies matter. But how we relate to those bodies, IMO, is the more important question. Certain bodies are not able to live and thrive in the debate-community. That must change… now!

      • bekah boyer

        Dear cookie: I’m sorry I truncated my comment. Gender is not “merely” performative. (As a womyn studies major and hopeful, eventual PhD candidate in the field’s implications in Art History AND huge advocate for women and womyn in debate in various organizations and personal levels, I would hate to be labeled an “essentialist”) Butler analyzed many of her previous statements in Bodies that Matter due to the outcry of Trans* persons who felt it criticized their desire for surgery. She articulates that the way the body is “marked” has a huge play into which performances . (Which is why I referenced “Bodies that Matter,” again, in brevity which altered the implication, I guess). My comment was meant to echo theories of responsive agency. Meaning — these dogmatic structures suck, let’s work on dismantling them AND helping assuage the harmful effects on bodies of real people. Basically, let’s get stuff done and at the same time, make sure we are helping people survive without overwhelmingly counterproductive measures This should not be confused with victim-blaming, but without nuance, it often is. I am sorry that I said something that could be inferred otherwise and neglected to couch my explanation more clearly. But yay – cookie, this is a GREAT and accessible de-briefing on post-structuralist gender theory. Thank you for providing it! Lots to say about the multi-dimensional issue of race in the cat-calling video, but that’s a different conversation.

        • Cookie

          I think we’re in agreement that Judith Butler is a total boss! I’m sorry if I implied that you haven’t read “Bodies that Matter”… I’m sure you have. I was mostly telling the kiddos to read that book.

          Which reminds of the comment that Mr. McGinnis made about Karl Popper vs Karl Marx that I wanted to respond to… Awww… you see… that explains everything!

          Also… this…
          ” Lots to say about the multi-dimensional issue of race in the cat-calling video, but that’s a different conversation”

          YES! I’ve been thinking the same thing, and that’s an issue that has been missing from the conversation (e.g. when Fox News played that video). I don’t really know you Bekah… I know of you, but I don’t know all of your views. If I ever find myself at a high school debate tournament (which is unlikely in the foreseeable future), then shawty we need to talk. (Disclaimer: I don’t mean “shawty” in the misogynistic way that many rappers do. I just mean you’re kewl and I like what you have to say.)

          Cheers!

          • bekah boyer

            Yay! I should apologize for letting my frustrations get me to forget myself and create an abridged statement that resulted in a lot of confusion. I am very happy that it led to such an awesome explanation. If I had read that, I would have jumped on it too. Let this be a lesson to me to re-read before hitting “post,” lol.

  • Emma Weddle
    • mcgin029

      Cryptic.

  • Cookie

    Anyways… these were just my random thoughts about Mr.McGinnis’ article. Despite my “snarky” and “condescending” tone, I do appreciate the article. And I’m happy that Mr. McGinnis and I agree on one thing: Original Oratory is a super kewl activity! But the big difference, and where I agree whole-heartedly with Rodrigo, is that I’m not telling students to leave the activity because I don’t like what they have to say. That’s insulting, and it should be called out for such. It’s like when Fanon says in “Black Skin, White Masks,”

    “The white world, the only honorable one, barred me from all participation. A man was expected to behave like a man. I was expected to behave like a black man – or at least like a nigger. I shouted a greeting to the world and the world slashed away my joy. I was told to stay within bounds, to go back where I belong… I tell you, I was walled in: No exception was made for my refined manners, or my knowledge of literature, or my understanding of the quantum theory.”

    We can go back and forth about this all day, but I’m done for now (although I plan on eventually responding to Mr. McGinnis’s claim “This is not revolution, it is co-option” at a later date – really that’s the most interesting part to me.) Like I said in my original comment, the debate-space is yours, not ours. Don’t listen to me, and don’t listen to Mr. McGinnis. In other words, kiddos, when Mr. McGinnis tells you to debate the topic, just ignore him. Or, just ignore me and do debate the topic. But above all, debate about important things (and let’s not leave out no-things), things that matter to you! Or, to quote someone much smarter than Mr. McGinnis and me,

    “Apart from the general anarchy which has erupted among the reformers, each is compelled to confess to himself that he has no clear conception of what the future should be. That, however, is just the advantage of the new trend: that we do not attempt dogmatically to prefigure the future, but want to find the new world
    only through criticism of the old. Up to now the philosophers had the solution
    of all riddles lying in their lectern, and the stupid uninitiated world had only to open its jaws to let the roast partridges of absolute science fly into its mouth. Now philosophy has become worldly, and the most incontrovertible evidence of this is that the philosophical consciousness has been drawn, not only externally but also internally, into the stress of battle. But if the designing of the future and the proclamation of ready-made solutions for all time is not our affair, then we realize all the more clearly what we have to accomplish in the present – I am speaking of a ruthless Kritik of everything existing, ruthless in two senses: The Kritik must not be afraid of its own conclusions, nor of conflict with the powers that be.”

    – Karl Marx in the “Marx-Engels Reader”

    • mcgin029

      I guess this is why I prefer Popper to Marx, despite being a political socialist.

  • Rodrigo Paramo

    This article literally closes with ‘non-topical critical debaters leave the activity and go do Oratory’ am I the only person seeing a problem with this?

    Also I think the argument that allowing critical debaters to present their arguments will collapse to rounds where debaters threaten their judges is patently offensive. It’s either needlessly snarky or knowingly ignorant, and neither one is befitting of an argument claiming to provide a “good” model for debate.

    • Rodrigo Paramo

      1) Also I’ll pre-emptively apologize for being a bit jumpy with my comments but I’m equally confused as to why you can say

      “there is no universally accepted, carefully articulated set of rules for debate that set out exactly what the activity is — what one has to do in order to participate, and what it takes to win.”

      and also conclude that

      “Debate is a thing; it is not a random, amorphous thing, but rather a specific kind of thing with specific characteristics.”

      Forgive my confusion but these two (fairly clearly in my eyes) contradict each other.

      2) Also I’d ask that you take care to recognize that just as there are a lot of different types of “topical” debaters, there is not a single “non-topical” debater mold you can indict the way that this article attempts to.

      Before you accuse me of not reading the article, here’s a couple of examples of what I’m referencing:

      – “Even if, as critical debaters will point out, you can “defeat” their position without “refuting” it”
      – “nontopical critical debaters are correct that the success of their strategy will lead to its greater prevalence in debate, this doesn’t seem like a positive development,”

      3) The last point that jumps out to me is ” It is not realistically the case that the presence of a particular kind of debate advocacy in elimination rounds of some tournament is going to increase the probability of “real world change.””

      While normally I’d call this out for being needlessly exclusionary you make it quite clear you are hoping to exclude certain students from debate so I think that argument might lose its impact. More importantly, I’d like to know why its confusing to you that a particular kind of advocacy in outrounds would increase the probability of real-world change. Have things changed since I’ve been to my last tournament and now magically prelim rounds have bigger audiences than elim rounds? If so, I’m glad to apologize, because that’s the only scenario in which your argument makes a shred of sense.

      • Guest

        “While normally I’d call this out for being needlessly exclusionary you make it quite clear you are hoping to exclude certain students from debate”

        K debaters really need to stop saying that excluding certain positions excludes certain debaters. That argument makes absolutely no sense. Just because someone prefers a certain type of debate doesn’t make them incapable of debating in another style. Someone being oppressed does not make him or her incapable of debating about a resolution any more than it makes him or her incapable of playing basketball.

        • Rodrigo Paramo

          Just because someone prefers a certain type of debate doesn’t make them incapable of debating in another style.

          This seems to respond to the entirety of the article

          Again that needlessly ignores the reality that a lot of debaters have personal intersections with the topics that mean maybe they shouldn’t have to adapt to a style that requires them to defend systems that discriminate against/ disenfranchise them.

          Also like the article does say that it wants to exclude these things I don’t understand why you take offense to that ?

          Literally this article was written to tell critical debaters “either conform, concede, or get out” which part of that seems to misrepresent the article to you

          • mcgin029

            That would respond to the article if the argument in the article were “we should have topical debate because I prefer it.” That is, notably, not my argument.

          • Rodrigo Paramo

            I perfectly understand your argument, as I pointed out above

            “Literally this article was written to tell critical debaters “either conform, concede, or get out” which part of that seems to misrepresent the article to you”

            Am I missing something?

          • Guest

            either conform, concede, or get out

            I’m still not quite sure what the problem with the first option is. How is it racist,sexist,etc… to force someone to debate about the truth or falsity of a resolution? The closest thing to an answer is “that needlessly ignores the reality that a lot of debaters have personal intersections with the topics that mean maybe they shouldn’t have to adapt to a style that requires them to defend systems that discriminate against/ disenfranchise them.” But 1) they can still talk about oppression so long as they do it through arguments that prove the resolution true or false “RTBF is racist, racism outweighs other impacts”. 2) not quite sure how they are defending a system by arguing about what it should do. You aren’t saying the CJS is a great thing by saying the CJS should implement ACP. Even if the CJS is racist, it still might be desirable for it to implement ACP.

      • mcgin029

        There’s no contradiction because I’m arguing in favor of a norm. I’m not asserting that the norm pre-exists or that there is a rule book. In the absence of explicit rules, norm building is what we have left.

        If you would be willing to concede that the existence of an explicit textual rule governs the choices debaters make then the issue would resolve itself in many cases, because most tournament invitations include a phrase to this effect:

        “The topic to be debated will be the November-December NSDA topic.”

        • Rodrigo Paramo

          Like I get that my comment was long but a productive discussion should probably engage with more than the first point of a three-part comment.

          No, I mean I don’t think that resolves it because most prominent critical debaters have some discussion of the topic but as you outline above that’s not enough for you.

          While with traditional debaters a 90/10 split is okay, when it comes to the K you seem to settle for nothing less than a 0/100 one.

    • mcgin029

      That is not my argument at all. My argument is that a defining characteristic of “debate” is that you are debating about something, and that the “something” should be agreed upon for everyone, rather than allowing some people to make up a topic on their own without consultation.

      I never argue that people who prefer to do something else shouldn’t be allowed to come debate, just that they shouldn’t demand a “win” for doing something other than debating the topic.

      Also, I don’t know why you hate on Original Oratory. I love that activity. It is much more free-form than LD and is specifically designed to be a forum for the kinds of positions that many nontopical debaters want to run. It is also much more well-attended than LD debate, and so has a vastly broader audience.

      And, to quote “Cookie”:

      “I believe there is something extremely empowering about an activity that gives students the ability to talk uninhibited for 13 minutes while others must listen.”

      I agree. It’s probably even more empowering if the activity doesn’t set aside an equal amount of time for your opponents to interrupt you with speeches about how you shouldn’t be allowed to give *your* speeches.

      • Rodrigo Paramo

        I have no problem with Oratory my problem is with you literally telling debaters their experiences (and by extension they) don’t belong in this activity.

        Also in two comments now you’ve ignored the question of why exactly it’s so bad for critical debaters to demand a win but I haven’t detected like an articulated reason, feel free to point it out to me if I’ve missed it.

        Finally, this was a pretty important part of the original comment you replied to but also got ignored, I’ll repost it here for you

        “Also I think the argument that allowing critical debaters to present their arguments will collapse to rounds where debaters threaten their judges is patently offensive. It’s either needlessly snarky or knowingly ignorant, and neither one is befitting of an argument claiming to provide a “good” model for debate.”

        • mcgin029

          Oh, Rodrigo, I *so* didn’t say that. Come on. Set aside the blocks.

          Also, I did not say that allowing nontopical debate “will collapse” to threats. I posed the question: If one adopts the position that *anything* we say in round is fair game as long as it motivates a ballot, then by what logic do we exclude threats and bribes? You could add to that all kinds of non-debate behaviors.

  • Cookie

    The good ‘ol “switch-side topical” debate vs “kritik” debate!

    People have been having this debate in the college policy community for years, and, if high school LD debate continues to evolve as the little sibling of policy debate (which may or may not be pedagogically valuable), then I doubt this debate will disappear anytime soon. For those who debate “non-traditionally,” I suggest reading this article, observing the evolution of framework-debates in policy, and writing good, nuanced frontlines against topicality.

    When Mr. McGinnis talks about fairness, you should be skeptical. You should ask yourself, Fairness for whom?? Mr. McGinnis is right about this: debaters who change the framework for the debate by introducing an “alternative methodology” probably do accrue an unfair advantage. But, who will benefit from switch-side topical debate?? I’ll tell you… large, established programs. Programs with a litany of coaches. Programs that have greater resources. Programs that can send their students to camps. Programs that can afford research-databases like LexisNexis. Mr. McGinnis is right that the Global South is excluded from the privileged world of debate, but what is Mr. McGinnis doing to change that? Students of color must performatively “whiten” themselves to play the rigged game of traditional debate. Many womyn are alienated by the hyper-competitive and obnoxious atmosphere of national-circuit debate. Economically impoverished, “lone-wolf” debaters will never be able to compete fairly with your cadre of college assistant-coaches. Mr. McGinnis draws an arbitrary distinction between “in-activity fairness” and “societal fairness.” Lol wut?! Is it so hard to imagine that societal unfairness permeates into debate? Do you really think that the debate community is that insular?

    This article reminds me of conservatives who preach about the “good ‘ol days!” Mr. McGinnis misses the good ‘ol days when LDers actually talked about the topic. Between the lines is a thinly-veiled fear of difference – a repetition of the same (to put it in Deluezian terms). The over-arching point that I’m trying to make is that fairness is a projection-racket. It pretends to be objective when really there is only subjectivity. Again, ask yourself, fairness for whom? If you consider yourself disadvantaged by societal unfairness, then expect more of the same from debate!

    Viva la revolución!!!

    I’m just kidding, of course… Kids… Respect your elders (like Mr. McGinnis)! Debate the topic! Don’t be unfair! And remember… never, ever, no matter what, do drugs!

    P.S.

    How is debate a “thing”? True, debate is an activity. But, mostly because I just got done reading some good ‘ol Heidegger, I would like to advance a competing interpretation of debate: Debate is not a thing; it is a no-thing. It is an amorphous and creative process that changes and evolves. But how can we speak of this “no thing” as if “it is”? Mr. McGinnis thinks debate is something, and I think it is something else (is the no-thing something else?). But here’s “the thing,” kiddos, don’t listen to people like me and Mr. McGinnis! Because while we try to define the ‘thinglyness’ of debate, at the end of day the debate-space is yours! Talk about things or no-things that are important to you! I believe there is something extremely empowering about an activity that gives students the ability to talk uninhibited for 13 minutes while others must listen. This is one reason why debate is different from other activities. Is Mr. McGinnis’ point that academic-debate should be more like high school football? Really?

    – Tyler

    • Rodrigo Paramo

      This bears repeating:

      “How is debate a “thing”? True, debate is an activity. But, mostly because I just got done reading some good ‘ol Heidegger, I would like to advance a competing interpretation of debate: Debate is not a thing; it is a no-thing. It is an amorphous and creative process that changes and evolves. But how can we speak of this “no thing” as if “it is”? Mr. McGinnis thinks debate is something, and I think it is something else (is the no-thing something else?). But here’s “the thing,” kiddos, don’t listen to people like me and Mr. McGinnis! Because while we try to define the ‘thinglyness’ of debate, at the end of day the debate-space is yours! Talk about things or no-things that are important to you! I believe there is something extremely empowering about an activity that gives students the ability to talk uninhibited for 13 minutes while others must listen. This is one reason why debate is different from other activities. Is Mr. McGinnis’ point that academic-debate should be more like high school football? Really?”

      • mcgin029

        Not sure why that bears repeating since it is literally the last paragraph of the previous post. I’m working on an answer to this post, but it’s taking time to parse out the actual analysis from the snark.

        This may just be a pardigmatic difference but I don’t think it’s a good idea to deconstruct debate past the point where it is no longer a thing. That view certainly invalidates my argument, but it also calls into question what critical debaters are trying to do. Why on earth would a judge be expected to vote for a “winner” if debate isn’t something? If debate is literally a no-thing, then it loses its value both for topical and nontopical debaters. If you deconstruct it back that far, then thre’s no reason why we shouldn’t just have coin flipping contests or paper-rock-scissors championships.

        Finally, I think nontopical debaters are defining the “debate space” just as oppressively as topical debaters. They both want debate to be something, and both prefer that it be something that they prefer. Don’t act as though nontopical debaters are just random free spirits; they’re trying to win, too. They’re just not “debating” to do it.

        • Rodrigo Paramo

          I think it bears repeating because it’s fairly important, but also so that it doesn’t get lost by people who don’t expand Tyler’s comment since as you said, it is literally the last paragraph of the previous post.

          I also think it’s needlessly reductive of an argumentative style to say they’re not “debating” because they’re not operating within the way the dominant paradigm tells them to debate.

        • Cookie

          In terms of the thing vs the no-thing:

          I was not deconstructing debate. That part of my comment was mostly “snark,” a very apt word I might add. However, I think we both know there’s a hint of Deconstruction in my approach to debate. Perhaps you’re right that this is just a paradigmatic difference between us. But I encourage you to read some deconstructionist like Jacques Derrida. A good place to start is “Of Grammatology” and/or “Writing and
          Difference.” (Why can’t you underline in disquis? And why am I so concerned with grammar after just citing Derrida?)

          Ha! Ha!… You see, I had a feeling you would miss the point of why I brought up the thing vs no-thing. What is “the
          thing”? I’m not entirely sure, and you have yet to provide a definition (or, in philosophical terms, metaphysics). Continental philosophers such as Heidegger, Derrida, and Foucault – really since Nietzsche – have called into question our epistemic ability to rationally distinguish between things and no-things. They criticize (and of course I’m talking in broad-strokes) Cartesian dualisms and the universal subject/object relation of the Enlightenment. I’m sure I’m boring you with all my philosophy-mumbo-jumbo. I’ll put it in language that is more contextual to what we’re talking about: You’re defending that “debate is a ‘thing.’” You said that in your original article. So… again… what is a thing?

          “The Thing” of the thing vs no-thing debate (which you’re missing) is that your approach to debate excludes a vast array of interesting, relevant, and philosophical literature – namely continental philosophy, post-structuralism, post-modernism, Black Political Thought, feminism, Queer
          Theory… I could go on and on.

          Which brings us to the issue of “exclusion” – you used the
          word “oppressively.”

          I assure you, Good Sir, that I am truly a “random free spirit.” I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. I’m not saying that you are an oppressor; I’m saying that the type of thinking that this article employs is oppressive. Of course where one draws the line between thought and action is blurry. I love ALL debaters that perfect their craft: LARPers, theory-debaters, framework-heavy meta-ethical debaters, kritikal debaters, and so and so on. The only one being dogmatic and stifling the “marketplace of ideas” is you, Good Sir. Your framework is oppressive (but I prefer the word “exclusionary”).

          Mr. McGinnis, why must you exclude the no-thing??? Does the no-thing not belong in debate??? I encourage you to
          read Fred Moten’s discussion of Blackenss as it relates to No-thing. Moten’s argument is that Blackness is the ontological position of nothingness in civil
          society.

          So… Mr. McGinnins… Back to the thing vs the no-thing…

          • mcgin029

            My favorite part about arguing with critical debaters is the condescension, particularly as it is informed by name dropping. I’ve read the authors. I’m not impressed.

            It is not the case that all constructions are oppressive. We can only interact through constructions, so if that were the case, we’d be sort of doomed. I do agree that unexamined constructions are potentially oppressive; the myth of Adam reading essence into the world is oppressive. But rejecting the notion that trees are trees because God imbued them with tree-ness (and Adam read it out) does not require rejecting the idea of “tree” as a sign and our conception of tree-ness as a signified. As long as we understand that this is a construction that we’ve cobbled together, and as long as we’re willing to explore the power relationships that went into that cobbling, then we’re good — or, as good as we flawed creatures can be.

            Gender and race are interesting intersections of the same idea. Gender is obviously fraught with potential for oppressiveness, particularly as it is understood as essential, gender roles as assigned. But we can have gendered relationships that are not oppressive, and there are folks who understand the performative nature of gender and live out gendered lives — sometimes very stereotypically gendered lives — without bowing to the oppressive expectations of others. As long as we understand that our gender is a performance that we elect from within a socially located consciousness, then who’s to argue?

            So, debate, like all other activities, is a social construction with a particular character. My argument vis a vis the no-thing is this: if debate is a no-thing, then you have to divorce it from all of its thing-like elements, not just the ones you don’t prefer. But if debater were a no-thing then it would be identical to all of the other no-things and there wouldn’t be any reason to do debate rather than, say, quiz bowl, or Original Oratory, or football.

            But I don’t think that’s what debate is because — and here’s the turn — that imposition on the activity is truly oppressive. You argued that all the “kiddos” get to define the debate space for themselves, but you’re wrong — all the kiddos, and their coaches, and their opponents, and their judges — get to define the debate space *together*. The choices that one debater makes have implications for everyone else in the space. Nontopical debate is oppressive because the nontopical debater asserts the authority to unilaterally define the terms of the interaction. Topical debate leaves open a tremendous amount of space for diversity of performance, but ensures that everyone has some degree of control over the interactions that take place. If one set of debaters gets to violate that by insisting that the “debate space” be restructured according to their preferences, then that group is assuming authorial power unique unto themselves; that is oppression.

            Now, if you could convince me that this kind of power exists uniquely for the benefit of socially excluded groups, then you might have an argument in favor of radical revolution against topical debate. But that is just wrong. The rising popularity of nontopical debate does not operate to the benefit of excluded groups — it takes place because (as predicted) when nontopical debate “wins,” it gains more adherents. But these are largely privileged white kids who wear their radicality the way college students in the 1990s wore Che Guevara t-shirts — except that nobody gave them trophies for wearing Che Guevara t-shirts.

            No one has yet told me what to do in a situation where a privileged white male runs a feminist position against a less privileged female debater, or when a white female debater defeats a Black female debater running a Blackness position. These are not power inversions. This is not revolution, it is co-option.

            And no one has told me why it is less exclusionary for a nontopical debater to insist on a nontopical debate than it is for a topical debater to insist on a topical debate.

          • Rodrigo Paramo

            Yeah like “No one has yet told me what to do in a situation where a privileged white male runs a feminist position against a less privileged female debater, or when a white female debater defeats a Black female debater running a Blackness position. These are not power inversions. This is not revolution, it is co-option.”

            Those situations are bad you’re right, most critical debaters probably say that’s bad too, it’s a thing called speaking for others that most critical debaters would probably be against.

            Again most of your arguments assume a unilateral K debater group that just get together to oppress the topical debaters or something I just think you’re ignoring publicly visible segments of k debaters (I know you’ve seen this but just for the sake of making it more publicly visible http://vbriefly.com/2014/10/26/the-argument-for-inclusion-fostering-agonism-in-debate-by-rodrigo-paramo-and-varad-agarwala/) that advocate models which allow for both topical and critical debate, yet you’re the one quick to say no we can’t possibly have both, we have to choose a singular model.

            Cookie addressed this above but you ignored it when he said it too, maybe I’m confused about why such a choice is necessary.

          • mcgin029

            Per round, the choice is necessary, because the practices are mutually exclusive at the moment of confrontation. If the aff “role of the ballot” doesn’t have anything to do with proving the truth of the resolution, then a neg that proves the falsity of the resolution has no impact, and vice versa. The agonism argument assumes that we will adopt the nontopical approach whenever someone elects to initiate it; that isn’t compromise.

          • Rodrigo Paramo

            I don’t think it does assume the nontopical approach… When you’re correct and there is no universal norm for what a role of the ballot/good methodology for debate is, the agonism argument would probably foster a debate round where individuals could argue for topical debate in round, but do it in a way that doesn’t collapse to get out of the activity. I love topical debate, but I don’t think a choice like the one this argues for is as necessary as you seem to make it out to be.

    • mcgin029

      There’s a lot going on in this post, and I have to do some work with the kids, but to start, at least, I have issues with this:

      “But, who will benefit from switch-side topical debate?? I’ll tell you… large, established programs. Programs with a litany of coaches. Programs that have greater resources. Programs that can send their students to camps. Programs that can afford research-databases like LexisNexis.”

      First, both traditional topical switch-side debate and nontopical critical debate are activities in which students with lots of coaching, from established programs, etc., will benefit. Critical arguments do not write themselves, and they are not intuitions — they are ensconced in a literature (one that is easier to access if you have a college library’s online permissions.) People often go to camps to learn about critical debate. So do not think for a moment that the benefits of structural advantages accrue uniquely to topical debaters rather than critical debaters.

      Second, a good way to evaluate the relative impact of substantive advantages is to imagine an absolute comparison: Say you have a debater who wants to go to a tournament who has literally no access to coaching or other resources. A local circuit debater, a newcomer. Which kind of debate provides that student with a more accessible point of entry?

      (I note that this is an argument that is made in the article that no one is answering. One of the things I’ve discovered about these positions and those that run them is that often, they don’t answer arguments. Pro tip.)

      That kid looks up the LD topic on the NSDA website and then (if they’re smart) spends a bunch of time reading up on the topic lit, seeing what arguments people make on both sides of the topic, carding evidence about the topic, and getting prepared to debate the topic.

      It’s entirely possible that such a kid who attends, say, Blake, will get thrown by a variety of debate-specific performances. I often see these kids have trouble with structured theory positions, and I often see them struggle with philosophical frameworks.

      But the kid is going to be much more prepared, generally, to have *any* kind of debate on the topic than they will be to deal with someone who starts their AC with “I want to take a step back. I don’t defend the topic. Let’s talk about something else.” The resourceless kid is just going to be poleaxed by that position. Their likely reaction: “But, the invitation said we’d be debating the topic.”

      So it did.

  • James McElwain

    Dave, what’s your opinion on phil framework, or, more specifically, cases that are structured in such a way that any post-standard “topical” offense is highly unlikely to matter in the round?

    • mcgin029

      I like framework debates. I think it’s good that they are anchored to a shared topic of discussion. If a framework were so narrow that, post framework, there were no topical debate to be had, then I think that would be troubling — and an excellent moment to introduce a theoretical objection.

      I think debaters flirt with theoretical objectionability by over-narrowing their frameworks, but most good frameworks I’ve seen have been structured in such a way that it is possible to turn arguments back to them.

      I don’t think it is either possible or valuable to come up with a framing of “debate” that eliminates all surprises, but I do think that having an issue that we agree we are debating over is axiomatic.

      • Rodrigo Paramo

        I’ll engage with the substance of the article later, but I think that this comment raises an important question.

        I feel like normative framework debates aren’t anchored to a shared topic of discussion. I’m curious as to how your view of debate categorizes rounds where 90% of the debate is stuck debating which normative ethical framework is better and 10% is about topical offense linking back to it. This doesn’t seem to be a “topical” round given that it could probably occur on any topic that asks a moral question, but it also doesn’t seem to be excluded by your model?

        Please correct me if I’m wrong, I just don’t get the distinction between a debate round that spends time on a framework derived from critical theory as opposed to one that spends time on “traditional” frameworks.

        Why is one more topical than the other?

        • mcgin029

          Well, I already answered, I think, the same question when James asked it. To elaborate, as long as the aff or neg has to defend the resolution or refute the resolution, then debaters always have the option of generating turns back to the ethical framework. It may be the case that debaters in these rounds elect to debate the framework rather than the topical offense, but if I wander into a round that’s about, say, Virtue Ethics, and I don’t know anything about Virtue Ethics, I at least know that there has to be something about Virtue Ethics that affirms, and that I can win by arguing that, based on the aff definition of Virtue Ethics, it is more true that Virtue Ethics negates. Or I can lean heavily on the NC and try to outweigh. Either way, there is some kind of touchstone that I have access to. I have some conception going in of what I and the affirmative are up to.

          If the aff is just like, “If my framework is true you affirm” and there is no articulated link to the resolution (that is, to why the truth of the framework arguments affirms the resolution as stated) then, first, I’d say run theory, and second, that’s not topical debate, so I wouldn’t defend it.

          Also, I guess 90/10 is better than 100/0.

          • Rodrigo Paramo

            I don’t think you answered it either time to be frank.

            Let’s try an experiment here:

            “if I wander into a round that’s about, say, Afro-Pessimism, and I don’t know anything about Afro-Pessimism, I at least know that there has to be something about Afro-Pessimism that affirms, and that I can win by arguing that, based on the aff definition of Afro-Pessimism, it is more true that Afro-Pessimism negates. Or I can lean heavily on the NC and try to outweigh. Either way, there is some kind of touchstone that I have access to. I have some conception going in of what I and the affirmative are up to.”

            I don’t understand why this statement ^ is less true than the one you posted.

            My question is about the distinction between “critical” frameworks and “traditional” frameworks, because your article seems to group all critical debate into a non-topical category. (Sure, sometimes you add a modifier to clarify but more often than not that’s missing and just indicts critical debate as a whole)

            Also tangentially, “the two styles are logically mutually exclusive” is nonsensical. A debate space can exist with both of them and its needlessly pessimistic to assume from the get-go that we have to choose one or the other.

          • Emily Massey

            “Critical advocacy centered on proving the resolution true or false is completely compatible with with topical, switch-side debate. The current LD resolution is: “The right to be forgotten from Internet searches ought to be a civil right.” One of the most powerful arguments for the affirmative deals with the problem of the Internet as a tool for structural violence and abuse, particularly aimed at women. The prevalence of cyber-stalking and “revenge porn” provide both the affirmative and the negative with avenues to explore critical questions of race, gender and class in the context of the resolution, and in service of arguing for or against its truth.

            Thus, it isn’t critical advocacy, per se, that is excluded by a commitment to topical debate. Rather, it is non-topical critical advocacy.”

            -Beginning of Section 1 above, “Exclusion of Argument Styles”

          • Evan Zhao

            Except, if you note, towards the end…
            “And, to be clear, by “topical,” I don’t mean “advocacies that mention the topic.” This weekend, for instance, I judged a round in which the AC asked about my preferences. I said, “I strongly prefer that debate be about the topic.” The debater said, “Don’t worry, we’ll keep it topical.” Then he read an AC in which there was an argument about the topic followed by a pre-fiat critique that argued that I should vote affirmative because of his “speech act,” and its commitment to deconstructing oppression in the debate space.”

            Which is referring to a case in which the AC had a substantive AC and the ROTB exclusively states that there is no pre/postfiat distinction. The case itself was a very interesting case about R2BF and it’s ability to protect oppressed groups. The fact that the NC got up and decided that the AC was solely “critical” and decided not to engage in the substance was what ruined the round. The NC decided to compact the entire round into, “He does not belong here” with blippy, generic A2 K arguments that mooted all the substance and topical argumentation in the round. And the 1AR had no way of getting up and justifying spending a significant amount of his time on the substance debate, which the NC entirely ignored. The NC could have easily placed postfiat turns or ANY negative arguments on the flow, for that matter, and had an equal access to the AC’s ROTB. It’s debaters like that NC who ruin substantive debates that attempt to be critical. Having a critical undertone to your AC is much less of an abusive strategy than to have spikes laid down everywhere, but critical debaters still are shut down and excluded for even saying the words “role of the ballot”.

          • mcgin029

            Wow, that is totally not what happened in that debate, Evan. And, you weren’t there – right? The neg engaged the AC by perming the K. The aff dropped the perms.

          • Evan Zhao

            Perms such as “drop them and discuss after the round” do not answer the substance of the AC and how R2BF protects oppressed underground groups.
            Both debaters heavily mishandled the debate creating a large shift to a methods-only debate when the substance was still clearly on the table with a method that both debaters could have accessed.
            Ignoring the ROTB and engaging the substance would have been sufficient to create a “topical” round. There was no inherent “nontopicality” about the AC.

          • mcgin029

            You’re badly wrong. You weren’t there. Where are you getting this? Are you telepathic?

          • Evan Zhao

            How do you perm an aff that defends the implementation of R2BF? If topical switch-side debate is what you wanted, I feel like perming discursive stuff doesn’t really meet that.

          • mcgin029

            The aff ROTB had nothing to do with the topic. The point of the mention in the article was that the AC had a topical argument at the top but that the topical argument was not a part of the debate — the argument to affirm was just about the aff’s performance. Turning the topical argument would not have negated. Again: Not there. You clearly don’t know what you’re talking about.

      • James McElwain

        I guess I’m just skeptical that theses sorts of narrow frameworks are answered back by theory because it seems like most people who like theory also like debating phil framework.

        And to be clear, I’m not against reading philosophy–critique notwithstanding, I absolutely adore the western intellectual tradition and think there’s tremendous educational value to reading within that tradition. However, the nature of philosophy is to tend towards abstraction, and we both clearly agree that there is at least some point at which the narrowness of a philosophical discussion can elide any real topical discussion, e.g. does discussing the methodology of polls of public opinion really constitute discussion of organ procurement in any substantively educational way?

        Obviously there are kritiks that make no attempt to be topical. But there are also positions that, while they may not affirm the explicit text of the topic, definitely gesture towards the bigger picture of the topic. This again just seems to be a question of how much philosophical abstraction is too much. To me, talking about the body and lived experiences seems pretty relevant to the question of whether society should take our organs after death.

        Given the community’s acceptance of recycled phil framework, I can’t understand why a kritik that metaphorically or otherwise abstractly engages the topic is so unfair in comparison. Both analytic philosophy and the sorts of authors read by kritiks are attempts to engage with ethical questions, they just have different ways of approaching the question.

  • Evan Zhao

    Method debates should continue to exist until either (a) everyone is obligated to read justifications for their model of debate or (b) no one has to contest their role of the ballot. Obviously, LD is a young form of debate especially when compared to college debates. But when we look to more developed forms of debates (ie CEDA), rappers and poets no longer read carded justifications for their role of the ballots and still are very prominent in CX. The mindset of the structured LD round with very structured, identical cases is a reflection of the phobia of change and identity in the high school classroom. It is a reflection of the necrophilous learning process where students’ own voices are snuffed out and replaced with that of the normal, the institutions. College CX also reflects a classroom: the college classroom, where students are more free in expression, critical thinking, self identification, and fluidity of learning– a biophilal learning process. The same mindset of standardized testing, the factory line of students, stopping and starting at the sound of the bell, permeates many people’s desires of what LD debate should be. People’s discomfort with change and identity is the root of this fear of performance and critical debates. Even when I read a nontraditional position, I am still forced to be the one to justify my position while traditional policymaking debaters get a free ROTB and have their model of debate implicitly accepted. This phobia of difference and identity is just another reflection of oppressive educational systems, one that is scared of the poet’s voice.

    • AJT999

      I’m still thinking about the argument you made about the necessity of constant change, but I think you’re wrongly generalizing “traditional policymaking debaters”. I know many of these debaters (myself included) who make a real effort at substantively engaging unconventional positions that don’t fit Dave’s view for debate. We don’t opt for the “fairness always comes first” strategy in most cases either; when I go for framework against non-topical critical positions I usually read evidence that isn’t about fairness to support the ROTB rather than assuming I’ve gotten some free pass.

      • Evan Zhao

        It’s not the fault of those traditional debaters, and it’s not true that they always deny engagement with abnormal positions, but rather, it’s people in the community who will only listen to debates with a traditional ROTB that perpetrate this hindrance to progress. Making a blanket statement that these non-topical affirmatives don’t belong in LD is what is problematic. I’m not criticizing debaters like you, Adam. In fact, I very much appreciate debaters like you. Rather, I’m criticizing people who think performance debaters should just quit LD and do Original Oratory instead.

    • mcgin029

      I’d love to begin a dialogue with you on the issues raised in the article, but you have engaged exactly none of it. Your assertion that a preference for topic focus is analogous to factory-oriented educational models is nonsense, and the facility with which you articulate it just makes it sound practiced, not poetic. Read the article. Engage with it. Then we can talk.

      • Evan Zhao

        The argument is an appeal to a higher authority: that of CX debate. When you get to the top of the LD community, there is a moment where you abruptly realize that LD is not the only (and far from the most developed) form of debate there is. Obviously, there is a rather large flaw in our sentiment if other forms of more refined debate meets these nontopical positions with open arms while we reject them on face for being abnormal. The negative attitude towards a ROTB or methods debate is what hinders us from discovering why we as a debate community are so irrationally conservative about our style of debate.

        • mcgin029

          ** Actively Constrains Self **

          1. Arguments to authority are fallacies.
          2. “When you get to the top of the LD community…” No comment.
          3. I should hope that people would realize there are other forms of debate prior to getting “to the top of the LD community.” Look around at tournaments; it’s not as though the CXers hide.
          4. CX is more refined — ? Why is that?
          5. It is not the case that all CX debaters or coaches have met nontopical debate with “open arms.” The presence of nontopical debate has created schisms and conflict in both college and high school policy debate.
          6. No, a negative view of ROTB or methods debates does not hinder us from discovering why we are so irrationally conservative. Or whatever.

          Serioulsy, read the article.

          • Evan Zhao

            There’s literally no reason why you should reject people’s attempts to discover a better model of debate through contest and agonism. If their model of debate is really bad, then they’ll just lose their rounds. That’s really it. I have no problem with people who contest that X is a good model and that X is probably a more educational model that Y, but statements that say Y debate is bad because Y debate is not what we generally accept in squo, there seems to be some fallacious logic there.

          • mcgin029

            1. If the comment was about me, then you’re wrong, first, because I’m hardly at the top of the LD community, second, even granting that I were, from these lofty heights I have not yet decided that non-topical debate is the way to go.

            2. You still aren’t engaging anything — really, *anything* — from the article.

            For example, if you had read the article, you’d have to deal with the position that topicality is axiomatic of “debate,” so anything that isn’t topical literally cannot be a “better model of debate.”

            3. Sadly, doing things that are bad for debate often doesn’t result in losing.

            4. Your summary of my argument as, “Y debate is bad because Y debate is not what we generally accept in the squo” clarifies that you have not read the article. Pretty please, with ice cream on top, read it before you post further comments.